Category Archives: Celebrating Life

Farewell Your Loved One with White Doves at their Funeral or Memorial

White Doves represent spirituality in its deepest sense. Traditional funeral stories told that doves carried the souls of deceased people to heaven. Doves are often portrayed on graves to represent the eternal peace of someone who has departed this life.

Whatever you believe and whatever traditions you follow when mourning the loss of a loved one, it is always comforting to feel that they have gone somewhere peaceful and secure.

When the white doves fly away at the end of a service, people tell me that it feels like they are saying their final goodbye to that person. It often brings up emotions and helps to express grief, which is very therapeutic.

Heavenly Doves can bring between 1 and 25 white doves to services in Sydney. They can be released straight from their special box or they can be handed to family members and/or friends for release.

The doves are usually released at the end of a chapel or graveside service. But they can be released wherever family and friends feel it is appropriate – as long as they are released outside.

White doves are a great way of delivering a special message of peace and love (instead of just flowers) if you can’t be there because you live far away or circumstances prevent you being able to attend. We can read out a personal message or poem before setting the doves free.

How Many Doves Should be Released?

If you’re not sure how many doves to release, here are a couple of ideas.

A Single Dove

To represent the essence of your loved one passing away.

The Holy Trinity + A Spirit Dove

Three doves can be released to represent the father, son and holy spirit, then a single dove is released (usually from the hands of the closest person to the deceased) to represent their loved one joining with the Holy Trinity in Heaven.

Seven Doves = Spiritual Perfection

The number seven is a significant number in the bible.

Seven White Doves can represent seven angels in white flying through the sky.

Twelve Doves

The number 12 is also an important number in the bible.

12 doves can be released to represent 12 blessings (hope, joy, wonder, praise, peace, benevolence, comfort, faith, perseverance, strength, love and grace)

A dove for every year/decade

In the unfortunate loss of a younger person, we can provide a dove for every year of their life (up to age 20) or if the person was older, a dove for every decade of their life can be released.

A 21 Dove Salute

The twenty-one gun salute is often the highlight of official military ceremonies and commemorations. If your loved one served in the military we can release 21 doves, peacefully acknowledging their dedication to our armed forces.

A dove for closest family and friends

Heavenly Doves can simply bring a dove for each person that wants to take part in the release of doves at the funeral service.

Hand-releasing is the most common way that our doves are released because people can personally feel that they are letting their loved one go as the dove flies away.

Heavenly Doves has obtained top 3 in ‘special services’ category in NSW at Australian Bridal Industry Academy Awards 2007, 2008 & 2009. For more information and bookings see www.heavenlywhitedoves.net

The Challenge of Talking to a Young Child

Communicating with preschoolers or young school-age children about any subject can be challenging. They need brief and simple explanations. Long lectures or complicated responses to their questions will probably bore or confuse them and should be avoided. Using concrete and familiar examples may help. For instance, Dr. Earl A. Grollman suggests in his book, Explaining Death to Children, that death may be made more comprehensible by explaining it in terms of the absence of familiar life functions – when people die they do not breathe, eat, talk, think, or feel any more; when dogs die they do not bark or run any more; dead flowers do not grow or bloom any more.

A child may ask questions immediately or may respond with thoughtful silence and come back at a later time to ask more questions. Each question deserves a simple and relevant answer. Checking to see if a child has understood what has been said is critical; youngsters sometimes confuse what they hear. Also, children learn through repetition, and they may need to hear the same question answered over and over again. As time passes and children have new experiences, they will need further clarification and sharing of ideas and feelings.

It may take time for a child to understand fully the ramifications of death and its emotional implications. A child who knows that Uncle Ed has died may still ask why Aunt Susan is crying. The child needs an answer. “Aunt Susan is crying because she is sad that Uncle Ed has died. She misses him very much. We all feel sad when someone we care about dies.”

There are also times when we have difficulty “hearing” what children are asking us. A question that may seem shockingly insensitive to an adult may be a child’s request for reassurance. For instance, a question such as, “When will you die?” needs to be heard with the realisation that the young child perceives death as temporary. While the finality of death is not fully understood, a child may realise that death means separation, and separation from parents and the loss of care involved are frightening. Being cared for is a realistic and practical concern, and a child needs to be reassured. Possibly the best way to answer such a question is by asking a clarifying question in return: “Are you worried that I won’t be here to take care of you?” If that is the case, the reassuring and appropriate answer would be something like, “I don’t expect to die for a long time. I expect to be here to take care of you as long as you need me, but if Mummy and Daddy did die, there are lots of people to take care of you. There’s Aunt Ellen and Uncle John or Grandma.”

Other problems can arise from children’s misconceptions about death. Dr. R. Fulton, in Grollman’s Explaining Death to Children, points out that some children confuse death with sleep, particularly if they hear adults refer to death with one of the many euphemisms for sleep –”eternal rest”, “rest in peace.”

As a result of the confusion, a child may become afraid of going to bed or of taking naps. Grandma went “to sleep” and hasn’t gotten up yet. Maybe I won’t wake up either.

Similarly, if children are told that someone who died “went away”, brief separations may begin to worry them. Grandpa “went away” and hasn’t come back yet. Maybe Mummy won’t come back from the shops or from work. Therefore, it is important to avoid such words as “sleep”, “rest”, or “went away” when talking to a child about death.

Telling children that sickness was the cause of a death can also create problems, if the truth is not tempered with reassurance. Preschoolers cannot differentiate between temporary and fatal illness, and minor ailments may begin to cause them unnecessary concern. When talking to a child about someone who has died as a result of an illness, it might be helpful to explain that only a very serious illness may cause death, and that although we all get sick sometimes, we usually get better again.

Another generalisation we often make unthinkingly is relating death to old age. Statements such as, “Only old people die” or, “Aunt Hannah died because she was old” can lead to distrust when a child eventually learns that young people die, too. It might be better to say something like, “Aunt Hannah lived a long time before she died. Most people live a long time, but some don’t. I expect you and I will.”

Article courtesy of www.buddhanet.net

99 Balloons

This is a beautifully moving video of a family who made the most of a tragic situation. The celebration and joy that they created around little Elliott’s life is inspirational.

The Empty Chair at Christmas

This beautiful article is courtesy of Petrea King, founder and CEO of the Quest for Life Foundation (one of our Alliance Charities)

The Empty Chair at Christmas

A Father Dead

I cannot speak to my children about their father –
He is lost to them and to me.
There is an empty space where a father should be.
There is an empty space where a husband should be.
There is a sea of grief between me and my children
And I cannot speak of their father.
Perhaps they think that I have forgotten him
After all these years.
It is just that I cannot speak of him
Because of all these tears.

Marjorie Pizer

Grief is a strange beast that we learn to live with. We don’t get ‘over it’ as if it were a surmountable obstacle. We can become more comfortable with our discomfort but there is no finite time for grief as there is no finite time for love. Grief is often a private affair that others cannot share or perhaps even understand. Grief can spring out of drawers and cupboards, off shelves, from photographs, wafts to our nostrils upon a perfume, is precipitated by music, clutches at our heart, hollows out our insides and plummets us to the depths. It is indeed a strange beast to know and understand, to embrace, digest and assimilate.

Anniversaries, birthdays, special occasions and Christmas evoke powerful reminders of grief. We grieve again at the birth of a child, a marriage, a celebration when we mourn the absence of a loved-one no longer physically present in our lives; that that person is not there to celebrate, commiserate, acknowledge, share or witness the event.

Many people don’t understand the sheer physicality of grief. The chemical consequences of our emotions can create a powerful visceral reaction. Our heart can indeed feel like it’s breaking and many people describe a sense of feeling ‘amputated’ – as if a part of them has been severed.

Another little known or understood aspect of this is that it is not uncommon for people to have the physical symptoms that their departed loved-one experienced during an illness or trauma. Respiratory illnesses, headaches or migraines, aching bones or physical pain in the same body area that our loved-one experienced their discomfort is often the cause of people having all sorts of tests to find a diagnosis or gain relief. It is always worthy of deeper exploration when a physical symptom is present to see whether an anniversary, birthday or other special occasion may be contributing to the experience.

A client of mine experienced a migraine on the 13th day of every month that would last for several incapacitating days. It transpired that her husbands’ cerebral haemorrhage that precipitated his death in a car crash occurred on the same date. Once she was cognizant of this fact she was able to build in a series of rituals and practices that enabled her to more consciously acknowledge the date. These included having a warm bath for several nights before the 13th, going for a walk on their favourite bush track, scheduling a massage, lighting a candle by his photo and playing some shared special music. These simple additions to her life enabled her to give expression to her memories and feelings in a more conscious way – and her migraines stopped.

There is no right way to grieve and members of a family will often react very differently. Some people want solitude while other people won’t want to be alone. Some people want to talk about a loved-one while others may find the conversation too difficult. Some people become oversensitive to everything while others are oblivious to all but their own thoughts and feelings.

Christmas can evoke powerful memories of past family gatherings regardless of whether they were happy or difficult occasions. Many families struggle to relate happily to one another at Christmas-time and this can compound our grief in unexpected ways. Being prepared for this is really important rather than just hoping that things will be ok. Getting caught ‘off guard’ compounds our feelings of grief so setting aside time to consider how we might traverse these days more consciously can assist us to be as comfortable with our discomfort as possible.

The first Christmas after a loved-one dies is often traumatic as the empty space that person filled in our lives simply gapes at us. However, it is very common for the second, third or subsequent Christmases to be difficult or devastating as we fully comprehend the consequences of our lost love.

One of the most helpful sessions in our grief program (called Healing Grief) involves people identifying the behaviours, the environments and the things that they do or have in their lives that give them a strong sense of connection with themselves. Participants in our programs list things like being in nature, fresh flowers, listening to or making music, a good talk to a real friend, warm baths, massage, support groups or counseling, prayer, meditation, rituals, dancing, singing, perfumes, candle light, aromatherapy, bushwalking, the company of pets, small children, friends or family, visiting special places that are meaningful, keeping a journal, having a good cry, painting, hobbies, craftwork, exercise, yoga or being in the garden. Increasing the number of these activities – or the ones that we find individually useful – around Christmas or other potentially challenging days can be very helpful in minimizing distress.

This is often quite difficult with the busyness of Christmas however making some of these activities a priority in the lead up to this time can be very helpful. Scheduling in some time for ourselves so that we can express sadness, disbelief, anger or frustration can be more effective than it coming out in less helpful reactive language or behaviours. Making time for tears or for sadness gives us greater capacity to respond to other people rather than simply react unskillfully.

Setting aside time for reflection so that we honour the relationship we have lost or writing to the person can be helpful. Visiting the cemetery or a favourite shared place in the lead up to Christmas or doing something that you both enjoyed previously can assist people with their feelings of grief while for others creating a new way of experiencing Christmas might be appropriate, perhaps changing the food we traditionally eat or the venue. Opening Christmas gifts at a different time or changing our usual routine can create a new way of experiencing this time together. Keeping a candle lit by a photo of our loved-one or creating a special decoration or flower arrangement in their memory can help us acknowledge their continuing presence in our life even though they are physically absent.

The key is to set aside time to acknowledge our feelings of grief and to consciously choose how we will spend this time together rather than just hoping that we ‘get through it’.

Young children experience grief in powerful ways too. It is often thought that young children have little concept of death but this certainly hasn’t been my experience. It is crucial to provide a child with strategies and rituals that help them to assimilate the reality of loss as well as instilling the possibility of a continuing loving relationship with someone no longer physically present in their life.

Wrapping young children up in a rainbow and connecting up from heart to heart before they go to sleep can be an immensely helpful ritual for children. The child can then send a rainbow from their heart to the loved one who has passed on or, perhaps to a tree or garden if one has been created in memory of the person or to their photograph if a child has one by their bed. The ritual involves telling the child that you’re going to wrap them up in a rainbow and connect up your hearts via a rainbow. You then run your hand from the top of the child’s head to the tips of their toes asking them to imagine you’re wrapping them up in a cloud of red, the colour of strawberries, fire engines and tomatoes. You ask the child if they can see the colour and of course, children always can. You continue with each of the seven colours of the rainbow all the while running your hand gently from the top of their head to the tips of their toes. Then place your hand upon their heart and ask them to imagine a really bright rainbow that starts in their heart and that comes across to your heart – while you move your hand to your heart.

The little prayer I used with my children when I started wrapping them up in rainbows before they went to sleep when they were aged four and seven went like this:

 

I wrap you in a rainbow of light to care for you all through the night.

Your guardian angel watches from above and showers you with her great love.

A child can then send a rainbow from their heart to other family members as well as to the person who has passed on. This simple ritual generally stops nightmares and separation anxiety and is very helpful as a way for children to remain connected to the people they love. The full Rainbow Ritual can be freely downloaded from the resource page at www.questforlife.com.au and has also been written into a children’s book called You, Me & the Rainbow which is available at the Quest online shop. There are also beautiful little rainbow ribbons available with a heart on each end. Children love to have these as a visual reminder of the loving connection they have with the person who has passed on and often like to have them tied to their bed head.

Young children also enjoy making a Christmas decoration that is especially in memory of their loved one who has passed on. This can be hung upon the Christmas tree of displayed on the mantelpiece or on the Christmas table.

Many people berate themselves for having a good time or for laughing and enjoying themselves when they are grieving. This too is very normal and understandable. Some people think they must be in denial or they feel guilty or mortified that they can find pleasure in anything after the dreadful pain of loss. Having fun or enjoying each other’s company is not a sign that we miss a loved-one any the less.

Traditionally, Christmas is a time of happiness, shared times, excitement, reunion and love. Even at the best of times, this can be an enormous and unrealistic pressure on individuals and families and for those who are grieving, Christmas can feel full of potential pain. For some people it will feel like all the world is having a wonderful time with their loved ones and the grieving person is starkly reminded of their alone-ness and the loss of their loved-one. Feeling the pressure of having to be happy, jovial or even pleased to see people, can feel insurmountable and only accentuates the pain of loss.

By honouring our unique way of embracing grief and removing the pressure of other people’s – and our own – expectations of how we should grieve, we can create a healing pathway for ourselves. There is no healthy way around grief. Just as the potter knows that the pot is made strong by the furnace of heat, we must traverse the depths of griefs’ valleys if we are to discover compassion for ourselves and for all people that likewise suffer.

Petrea King
Author: Sometimes Hearts Have to Break
Founding Director
Quest for Life Foundation
www.questforlife.com.au

ph: 02 4883 6599

Quote of the Day

BOOK REVIEW: Afterlife Agreements: A Gift From Beyond

Afterlife Agreements: A Gift From Beyond is beautifully written by a bereaved mother of her grief journey.

It is filled with love, inspiration, and the spiritual piece that makes this book so unique. It was very moving to read Chris Mulligan’s journey following the death of her son, Zac. As she wrote about afterlife agreements and contracts we set up with our loved ones prior to birth, my own beliefs were validated, impleted and solidified. The grief process is so very difficult , but to know that our children are still very much a part of our lives can help lessen that grief.

Chris openly shares her “new relationship” with Zac, allowing us to know that their bond remains strong and loving. As the pain of Chris’ grief is journaled, she reminds herself and us that she and Zac set up their contracts for growth and learning. I am grateful Chris Mulligan followed her heart and Zac’s request that she write this book to help all bereaved parents look beyond their pain to the love and lessons that remain.

You can buy the book online at Amazon here.

Six Interesting Facts about Death

Little Known Fact About Death #1 ~
At least one place (in India) doesn’t bury their dead. They leave the dead bodies sitting out to be consumed by vultures.

Little Known Fact About Death #2 ~
In the 19th century, Egypt had such an excess of mummies that they started using them as fuel for trains engines.

Little Known Fact About Death #3 ~
Approximately 100,000,000,000 people (that’s 100 billion!) have died since humans began.

Little Known Fact About Death #4 ~
Queen Victoria insisted that she get buried with the bathrobe of her long-dead husband, Prince Albert. She also took a plaster cast of Albert’s hand with her to the grave.

Little Known Fact About Death #5 ~
A Swedish company called ‘Promessa’ now offers an ecological burial. They freeze-dry your body in liquid nitrogen, then pulverize it with high-frequency vibrations, and then put your powdered remains into a cornstarch coffin. It all decomposes within six to twelve months.

Little Known Fact About Death #6 ~
Maybe people just aren’t comfortable using the word ‘die’. There are more than 200 euphemisms for death, so we don’t have to utter the real words.